Erik Spoelstra

Spurs, Heat both focus on defense as Friday practices become film sessions

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SAN ANTONIO — No coach was going to put their players through a physical practice the day after that Game 1.

“Last night was extreme,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “It’s like trying to play you know, an NBA basketball game in a hot yoga environment. It’s not ideal.”

The conditions inside the AT&T Center during Game 1 were again the main topic of media questions on Friday, but the coaches and players were largely looking ahead to Game 2 Sunday. Making sure their guys got rest, both coaches turned Friday’s practices into film sessions and both focused on defense.

No coach is ever happy, but both were particularly frustrated with defensive lapses they saw in reviewing the series opener (won by the Spurs).

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra had good reason to be. Tim Duncan got all 10 of his shots in the paint, most of them rolling to the basket off the pick-and-roll (he hit 9 of those 10) and Tiago Splitter got all six of his shots within eight feet of the bucket and hit five (again, often as the roll man).

“We got to defend the paint a little bit better,” LeBron James said. “They did a great job of moving us around and through the pick-and-rolls they got buckets in the paint.”

Those buckets inside early helped open up the three point shooters in the fourth quarter when the Spurs hit six from deep. (and Danny Green caught fire with three of them). Although part of that fourth quarter fade from Miami was the conditions, the Heat rotations were actually fairly tight until the team wilted in the fourth quarter. Still Spoelstra had concerns.

“We have to do some things better, more committed, five men against a very good passing team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday before his film session. “They’re well schooled. Some things we need to adjust on….

“They move the ball extremely well, had us moving around. We were able to force some turnovers, make them uncomfortable. We need to find a little bit of a happy medium.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was his blunt self.

“I thought we made a good number of mistakes,” he said Friday at the Spurs practice facility. “I thought they missed some wide, wide open shots that they had, that scare you to death once you watch the film. That’s not just blowing smoke or an exaggeration. There were about seven or eight wide-open threes they had that just didn’t go down.”

Kwahi Leonard, who draws the task of guarding LeBron James much of the game, said Popovich was all about the defense in the film room.

“We’re in the Finals, you got to play great defense to win these games… also turnovers, he wants us to limit those,” Leonard said. “(Coach talked about) buying into our game plan, knowing our personnel, a lot of guys got some wide open looks last night and fortunately they missed, and just some of our rotations.”

Turnovers will be one stat to watch in Game 2 — the Spurs turned the ball over on 24 percent of their possessions last night, with the Heat getting 14 steals. Do that again, let the Heat get easy transition buckets again, and the Spurs will not like how the game ends as much as they did Game 1.

Cameraman runs onto court during play of Spurs-Mavericks (video)

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The Spurs’ 94-87 win over the Mavericks on Wednesday didn’t produce the Gregg Popovich fireworks that followed San Antonio’s last win over Dallas.

But Wednesday’s game still featured a very strange moment, when a cameraman ran onto the floor during play.

I’m not so bothered by the cameraman. He clearly thought a timeout had been called, potentially getting confused by the shot-clock buzzer sounding. It’s not ideal, but mistakes happen.

But why did the officials allow play to continue? That was absurd (though, thankfully, irrelevant).

(hat tip: reddit user Pontus_Pilates)

Nerlens Noel on prior criticism of 76ers: ‘I don’t think the roster’s changed’

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Before the season, Nerlens Noel called the 76ers’ center situation – with himself, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor – “silly.”

Philadelphia general manager Bryan Colangelo advised Noel to stay in his place. 76ers coach Brett Brown told Noel focusing on his strengths would yield a big payday. Noel has mostly been away from the team while rehabbing from surgery.

Has any of that changed Noel’s perspective?

Noel, via Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

“I don’t think the roster’s changed,” Noel said Thursday. “So, I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Noel didn’t seem concerned that he wouldn’t fit back in with the team after being away for the start of the season. He envisions his role as simply “being Nerlens Noel.” What exactly that will entail will unfold this season.

“I put myself in a different place with all these things,” Noel said. “Do what you can control. That’s what I give power to, is what I can really control. I think right now I’m in a good place mentally, I think my body feels great and I just want to get back to playing basketball and let things take care of themselves.”

This sounds like someone who still wants out.

In fact, the 76ers have only gotten bigger, trading combo forward Jerami Grant to the Thunder for power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova will limit Philadelphia’s opportunities to play two-center lineups – not that those appear fruitful. Plus, Embiid will get more minutes.

A defense-first interior player, Noel faces a tough fit. The 76ers just don’t have a roster that complements his skills after years of asset accumulation and tanking – which also likely grinds on him.

Noel said he’ll focus on what he can control, and I believe he’ll try. But it’s hard when the situation around him is so counter to his best interests.

Report: Age minimum still on table in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  The full draft board of the first 30 pics of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft is seen at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is expected to be finished soon, but with months until the current deal expires, both the owners and players can afford to take their time and get the details right.

Both sides reportedly agreed to keep the age minimum – which requires players to be 19 and one year removed from their high school class’ graduation – in place.

Or not?

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Other issues, like the age limit for players entering the league, are still on the table. The league has long sought to increase the age limit from its current 19, and at least one year removed from one’s high school class, to at least 20 years of age. The union has talked about a “zero and two” setup, similar to that used by baseball — players can enter the Draft out of high school, but if they choose to go to college, they have to stay in college at least two years (in baseball, it’s three years) before declaring for the Draft.

The union wants to lower the age minimum. Adam Silver wants to raise it.

Most likely, the current one-and-done rule remains in place.

But a zero-or-two setup could be an interesting compromise. That would allow players certain they’re ready for the pros out of high school to declare for the NBA draft. In all other cases, Silver would get his wish.

Again, the status quo likely remains in tact. But it’s good both sides are discussing the issue to see whether there’s a better solution.

76ers increase Joel Embiid’s minute limit to 28

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, tries to get around Cleveland Cavaliers' DeAndre Liggins, center, and Kevin Love during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Take comfort, chairs and staffers.

The 76ers have raised Joel Embiid‘s minute limit from 24 to 28.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

This was never a hard limit. Embiid played more than 24 minutes in five of his 12 games with a high of 27 in an overtime contest. Presumably, the new “limit” will also allow for Embiid to sometimes it.

Embiid’s numbers per 36 minutes are eye-popping: 28.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.8 blocks and 6.4 turnovers. A small workload likely factors into his per-minute dominance, and he’s still a long way from typical starter minutes. But I’m interested to see how his production translates over a larger sample.

The 76ers, in their mission to be less bad this season, will also appreciate a few more minutes of Embiid. They defend like the NBA’s second-best defense with him on the floor and the league’s second-worst defense without him. They also score a little better with him. Overall, they get outscored by just 2.2 points per 100 possessions with him and a whopping 14.2 points per 100 possessions without him.

This could give Philadelphia a couple extra wins over the rest of the season. At minimum, it’ll make the 76ers more enjoyable to watch for a few more minutes each game.